THE Blue Square Bet North football season is over. But while Boston United’s first-team squad pack their bags for a hard-earned holiday, head of youth Steve Welsh and his team are hard at work attempting to produce the Pilgrims stars of the future.
Over the weekend, Welsh and his team of coaches held trials for their age groups - ranging from under 10s to under 16s - as they ran the rule over youngsters from across the region who were hoping to gain a lucrative place in the club’s Centre of Excellence.
This is just one of the many challenges facing the Pilgrims’ youth academy, as they look to pick out raw talent before nurturing the youngsters into, they hope, the best footballers, and best young men, they can possibly be.
It’s a non-stop, sometimes thankless, task. But one which Welsh relishes. One which he says can be extremely rewarding as he has seen the likes of Jamie Stevens and Nathan Forbes make their first-team debut in the Football League. In later years, following the club’s well-documented demotions, further youngsters have progressed from the Centre of Excellence to the first team, the likes of Simon Ashton, Nick Jackson, Lee Beeson, Aaron Butcher, Alex Beck and Mitchell Griffiths playing vital roles, while Adam Millson even won the Player of the Year award in the 2008-09 campaign.
But the journey to Boston United’s first team is one only a handful make. A journey that begins many years earlier, with a totally different ethos.
It was TV pundit Alan Hansen who was famously left red-faced when he looked at Manchester United’s 1995-96 title-winning team - which included Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham - and predicted that you can never win anything with kids.
However, Welsh says that, with his developing youngsters, results don’t necessarily matter.
“There’s no point putting pressure on young players to get results when they are at the younger end of the scale,” he said.
“For youngsters, the main thing is to get them to enjoy their football.
“Then they’ll go out and play their games. If they make mistakes then it’s easier for us to help them learn from those mistakes without any pressure.
“Too much pressure hinders the players’ development from a young age. We look at the performance more than the result - if you put too much pressure on a young kid then they will fold, as a player and as a person.
“We have to look at the bigger picture.”
This weekend sees the centre host the Pilgrim Cup, a tournament at Cranwell that will see them pitted against teams from Nottingham Forest, Lincoln City, Hull City and many more local rivals.
This will be one of a few occasions where the centre youngsters are sent out looking for victory.
“It does them good to aspire to winning sometimes. But the basics are the most important thing early on,” Welsh added.
But as well as football development, mental strength and attitude is also high on Welsh’s priorities.
He added: “We have to make our players want to aspire to stay at the club, to work through the age groups and want to play for the first team.
“They need to learn this early on, then, towards the end of their development, when they’re about 15 or 16, we start to put a bit more pressure on the results.
“Then they’ve got to show they are capable of stepping up and showing they’ve got what it takes. That’s when we put the emphasis on results.
“I want to get as many kids from the centre of excellence into the first team as possible. But in order to make the first team squad, they need four things – they need to be physically capable, technically able, tactically aware and psychologically ready.
“It’s often a 10-year investment we put into these kids, so we hope they’re ready for the first team when they get the call.
“There will be so many kids who want it but don’t ever get there, but it’s a great feeling for all the centre coaches when a player does make it.”
A feeling Welsh and his coaches will want to experience again this season. Until then the work continues.